Victor Martinez a Start, but Detroit Tigers Are Still a Bat and a Starter Short
One of the orchestrators of the biggest deal of both the 2007 and 2009 winter meetings, many were shocked not to hear from Dave Dombrowski and the Detroit Tigers at the meetings this past week.
The reason they were quiet is simple: even with spring training more than two months away, they've already accomplished quite a bit thus far this offseason. Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta were brought back to secure the left side of the infield, and Joaquin Benoit was signed to set up for Jose Valverde (albeit at an absurd price tag).
Undoubtedly though, the prize of the team's offseason thus far is Victor Martinez. A lifetime .300 hitter and four-time All-Star, Martinez should be a major upgrade over both Johnny Damon (who got on base but hit for virtually no power) in the DH spot, and Gerald Laird (who brought literally nothing to the table offensively) as the backup catcher.
It's been a productive offseason so far for Dombrowski and the Tigers. Does that mean they're done for the winter? Not if they expect to improve on their third-place finish from 2010.
If the Tigers are going to win the AL Central next season, they still need a right fielder who can hit in the middle of the order and a quality starting pitcher.
As far as right field goes, the solution is right in front of Dombrowski's eyes. Finding another starter is far more complicated.
As a proven RBI guy who can burn opposing teams for pitching around Cabrera and a switch-hitter who can balance the lineup, it makes the most sense for Victor Martinez to hit fifth in Detroit's order. As such, they still need an all-around hitter who can hit third. Looking at the team's depth chart, it makes the most sense for that player to be a right fielder.
Some writers and fans have wondered if the team will forgo adding another outfielder, and give the job to Brennan Boesch or Casper Wells. If this happens, I'm going to automatically pencil the Tigers in for another third-place finish in 2011.
Call me harsh but it's my belief that Boesch was so awful after the All-Star break (.163 AVG, two HR, .459 OPS in 221 AB), there's no way he should even be in the conversation as far as right field is concerned. Growing pains are one thing; looking absolutely hopeless at the plate for nearly three months is something else.
Nothing in Boesch's minor-league track record (.753 OPS in 453 minor league games) suggests he can be counted on to regain his pre-All-Star break form next season and maintain it over the course of a full season. All things considered, I think it's far more likely the first half of Boesch's 2010 was the fluke, not the second half. The Tigers are in serious trouble if they're expecting him to be their everyday right fielder in 2011.
I'm a far bigger fan of Wells, and I think he should be ready to at least be the team's fourth outfielder. He impressed in limited playing time in 2010 and unlike Boesch, is an asset in the field and capable of playing all three outfield spots. There's a lot to like about his game.
Bottom line: While a better option than Boesch, Wells is an unproven commodity. The Tigers lineup is already littered with question marks. How much will Austin Jackson regress? Will Alex Avila keep making strides? Is Scott Sizemore or Will Rhymes a viable Major League second baseman? What, if anything, can be expected of Carlos Guillen?
As of right now, aside from Boesch and Wells, the Tigers' best options to accompany Cabrera and Martinez in the 3-4-5 hole are Guillen (who hasn't played a full season since 2007) and Ryan Raburn (who would be best utilized hitting either second or sixth in the order).
The Tigers are counting on enough young players as is. They cannot entrust both right field and a spot in the middle of the order to two players with fewer than 600 career AB between them.
Fortunately, the solution here couldn't be more obvious: re-sign Magglio Ordonez.
After the Martinez signing, some wondered if the Tigers still had room for Ordonez. Not only do they still have room for him, they need him.
It's really a shame his 2010 season was cut short by an ankle fracture, because it really looked as though Ordonez had rediscovered his 2006-2008 form after a rough season in 2009. In 323 AB, Ordonez posted a .303/.378/.474 batting line with 12 HR and 59 RBI.
When he, Cabrera and Boesch were producing this summer, the Tigers looked like legitimate contenders in the AL Central. With Martinez taking the place of Boesch, the Tigers could post a very potent middle of the order in 2011 if Ordonez is retained.
A great pure hitter with decent power who doesn't strike out often, Ordonez is a prototypical No. 3 hitter. Making the match even more logical is that Ordonez himself has stated his first choice is to stay in Detroit, and it's easy to see why. He's comfortable there, the fans adore him and four fellow Venezuelans (Cabrera, Martinez, Guillen, Armando Galarraga) are on the team's roster.
The biggest roadblock to a reunion between the Tigers and Ordonez is his agent, Scott Boras. Quick negotiations are hardly Boras' cup of tea, and it is said he is seeking at least a two-year, $20M contract for Ordonez.
If Boras is expecting much more than that, he's delusional. Two years at $20M might be too much given Ordonez' recent ankle injury and the fact that he turns 37 in less than a month. On the other hand, perhaps the two-year demand is a good thing for the Tigers; other teams less familiar with Ordonez might be more hesitant to offer a second year.
Bottom line: The Tigers can't afford to split hairs as far as salary goes. Even if they signed Ordonez at an annual rate of $10M, the 2011 Opening Day payroll would still fall short of $100M.
A reunion between Ordonez and the Tigers is too good a fit for all sides to not eventually happen. No team needs him more than Detroit and as such, no team should be more willing to give him what he wants salary-wise. In the end, I do eventually see him re-signing with the Tigers for something in the neighborhood of two years and $20M.
Assuming Ordonez is re-signed, I don't expect the Tigers to have much trouble scoring runs next year.
Preventing runs? That's another story.
I could be in the minority on this but I believe that after right field, the team's most pressing need is a quality mid-rotation starter.
In Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, the Tigers have a dynamite one-two punch, the best in the AL Central I'd argue. Some have argued they have the best front three in the division, which I think is ludicrous.
Why the difference in opinion? The answer is the amount of faith I have in Rick Porcello.
While I shake my head and laugh at those foolish enough to think the Tigers ruined him in bringing him to the majors so soon, I'm taking an "I'll believe it when I see it" approach with Porcello. Others are convinced he'll improve in 2011. He struggled too mightily in 2010 (4.92 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, .288 BAA) for me to assume as much.
Even if Porcello gets back to his 2009 form, when he was the team's third starter and they nearly won the division, uncertainty still surrounds the back end of the team's rotation.
I think moving Phil Coke (he of one major-league start) from the bullpen (where he was very solid in 2010) to the rotation and expecting him to be the fourth starter is, as far as competing in 2011 goes, incredibly risky.
If Dombrowski and Jim Leyland have seen enough to believe said transition will be smooth and Coke will be a dependable starter, fine. I as a fan have no choice but to take an "I'll believe it when I see it" approach here as well. Coke has good stuff and mound presence but without a track record as a major-league starter, I just cannot assume that will equal success.
As for the fifth spot in the rotation, the Tigers are content to allow Armando Galarraga and Andy Oliver to duke it out for that spot, which I have no problem with. As a Tiger fan, I'd simply feel a lot more comfortable if Coke was a part of that competition, rather than being given a spot outright.
While I'm not comfortable with what the Tigers have in the rotation beyond the top two, I understand the Tigers' desire to solve this dilemma from within. There is no clear answer to this problem either on the free-agent market or the trade market.
Before you ask, Cliff Lee is not an option, as Dombrowski has said. He is a risk they cannot afford to take. The only justification for giving a pitcher a contract that pays him over $20M in his late 30s is if you win a World Series. I'm not comfortable tying the success of an $140-160M contract to whether or not the team wins a World Series.
Furthermore, the Tigers don't need Cliff Lee. They already have an ace (Verlander), another pitcher who has all the makings of one (Scherzer), and yet another pitcher described as having ace-potential who is still young enough to fulfill that potential (Porcello).
I'm not too keen on giving Carl Pavano a three-year contract and forking over a draft pick to the Twins (something that has second-guessing written all over it) either. After Lee and Pavano, the free-agent market thins out pretty quickly as far as dependable starters go. The two pitchers I thought were the best fit for the Tigers prior to the offseason, Ted Lilly and Jorge De La Rosa, are off the market.
Even given that the Royals have said they will not trade Zack Greinke within the AL Central, the trade market offers some intriguing possibilities, none more so than Tampa Bay's Matt Garza. The Tigers got a first-hand look at his ability back in July when he no-hit them. With a front three of Verlander, Garza and Scherzer, it would be hard not to like the Tigers' chances going into 2011.
The drawback is what it would take to acquire him, as the Rays need relievers and would be in a position to require Ryan Perry or Daniel Schlereth as part of the return package. The Tigers would fill a spot in the rotation, but simply create another hole in the bullpen.
Florida's Ricky Nolasco is another option, as he is due a raise through arbitration and the Marlins seldom hesitate to move a player when he's about to get more expensive. He wouldn't come cheap either though, and many believe he and the Marlins will eventually come to an agreement on a new contract.
In a perfect world, the Tigers would add a pitcher who profiles at least as a No. 3 starter. Finding a pitcher of that caliber might just be so hard that they'll have to count on Rick Porcello to step up. That said, even if it's not a headline-grabbing move, they must at least add a pitcher who can compete with Galarraga and Oliver for a spot in the rotation.
The only pitcher the Tigers have been linked to thus far this offseason, Chicago's Tom Gorzelanny, fits that bill. A 28-year-old lefty who's had some success with the Pirates and Cubs, Gorzelanny wouldn't be a sexy pick, but Dombrowski could certainly do worse. In the event that Coke and Galarraga locked down spots in the rotation, he could be moved to a long relief role (a role suddenly vacated with Eddie Bonine and Zach Miner both gone).
Bottom line: The Tigers seriously lack rotation depth at the moment. Whether they trade for Gorzelanny, someone else or sign a free agent, it's an issue that must be addressed by Opening Day.
There is a sense among Tigers fans that after a few disappointing seasons, things may finally come together in 2011 and the team can win its first division title since 1987. That hope is not unfounded; there are many reasons to feel good about the team heading into next season.
For that hope to be realized though, the Tigers still must add a right fielder who can hit in the middle of the order and a starter who at least improves the club's pitching depth. Whereas bringing back Magglio Ordonez is the obvious answer in right field, there is no clear-cut solution to the rotation issue.
Dave Dombrowski still has plenty of time to figure it all out. With a couple shrewd moves, 2011 might just be a special year in Motown.
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